Home Cooking

Dallas diner dishes loving renditions of CFS and home-cooking classics

Dallas diner dishes loving renditions of CFS and home-cooking classics

Mockingbird Diner
It's a CFS for the ages. Photo by Marc Lee

Two familiar names in Dallas dining have joined together at a new restaurant that promises to be both epic and everyday. Called Mockingbird Diner, it's a collaboration between restaurateur Jack Perkins of Maple & Motor fame, and chef Jeana Johnson, who founded such restaurants as Mot Hai Ba and Good 2 Go Taco.

The restaurant, which opened very quietly in December 2017, is across the street from Dallas Love Field, in a new building at 3130 W. Mockingbird Ln., on the site of what used to be the now-demolished Love Field Inn. Targeted to locals, airport workers, travelers, and hotel guests, Mockingbird aims to become the quintessential Dallas place, serving Texas standards such as chicken-fried steak that they've elevated via careful preparation.

"I've always wanted to do this kind of restaurant," Perkins says. "If you go to Philadelphia, you ask, 'Where do you get a cheese steak?' Or if you go to New York, you look for the best place to get a slice. I want Mockingbird to be the place you go when someone comes to Dallas and asks where the best place is to get chicken-fried steak. It's Texas food."

The menu includes home cooking favorites like fried chicken, meat loaf, Frito pie, pork chops, and ham steak with the bone in. A "fryday" basket has fried shrimp, catfish, and salmon croquettes.

If Dallas-Fort Worth has an indigenous cuisine, it would be home cooking, with which it has had a long affiliation, including its role as the birthplace of chains such as Black Eyed Pea, Good Eats, and Dixie House. Home cooking restaurants are the diners of the South.

"If you got on a horse and made your way to Texas 150 years ago, you had to be a bad ass," Perkins says. "The food here is stuff that will grow in rough soil: okra, squash, zucchini. But over time, we learned how to handle it, how to braise a tough cut of meat and come out with tender brisket. We learned how to do the things that make the food great."

There are pop-in-your-mouth hush puppies, yeasty rolls, cornbread, and many classic home-cooking veggie sides: broccoli-cheese rice, green bean casserole, mac and cheese.

"There are people who've been doing this kind of cooking, but I don't know if anyone's doing it with the love we're doing," Perkins says. "Everything's made from scratch and made to order."

In this four-star chef's version of home-cooking, the mac and cheese is made with real cheese, not Velveeta. The cornbread is so moist, it's almost like custard. Sauteed yellow squash and onions are made from fresh vegetables, with the texture of the squash still almost firm.

The CFS is an object of wonder, made the old-fashioned way by dipping the steak in flour, then liquid, then flour again, and fried until the crust puffs up into a buoyant shell, clinging to the tender meat, whose provenance chef Jeana will vexingly not divulge.

A regular order gets you two steaks, but like many of the entrees here, you can order it in a convenient smaller size for a few dollars less.

Prices are low by contemporary standards, ranging from $8.99 to $13.99 for most entrees, and topping out at $21.99 for a 6-ounce filet, if you want to go high.

The restaurant also boasts a comforting familiarity, with spacious booths, thick cotton linens, and flatware that's been stone-tumbled to give it a cool matte-gray finish. The building has an unusually high peaked ceiling,  like a church. Coffee mugs sport the restaurant's mockingbird logo, and cream comes in those tiny steel pitchers.

For now they're open breakfast and lunch, with dinner rolling out later in January. Breakfast includes eggs, pancakes, waffles, omelets, breakfast tacos, chilaquiles, and a stand-out called enchiladas and egg — cheese and chili enchiladas served with a sunny-side egg, avocado, and black beans. A selection of pastries includes cinnamon rolls, and there are pies like pecan and buttermilk for dessert, made with real crust.

"The goal is that, when you bite into one of our items, it's exactly what you remember it should be," Perkins says. "Even if you don't know why, there's something about the food that makes you feel that way."